Mayo Clinic Health Library

Language development: Speech milestones for babies

Updated: 03-09-2013

A baby's first words are music to a parent's ears. But how can you tell if your child's speech and language development is on track?

While every child learns to speak at his or her own pace, general milestones can serve as a guide to normal speech and language development — and help doctors and other health professionals determine when a child might need extra help.

By the end of 3 months

By the end of three months, your child might:

  • Smile when you appear
  • Startle upon hearing loud sounds
  • Make "cooing" sounds
  • Quiet or smile when spoken to
  • Seem to recognize your voice
  • Cry differently for different needs

By the end of 6 months

By the end of six months, your child might:

  • Make gurgling sounds when playing with you or left alone
  • Babble and make a variety of sounds
  • Use his or her voice to express pleasure and displeasure
  • Move his or her eyes in the direction of sounds
  • Respond to changes in the tone of your voice
  • Notice that some toys make sounds
  • Pay attention to music

By the end of 12 months

By the end of 12 months, your child might:

  • Try imitating words
  • Say a few words, such as "dada," "mama" and "uh-oh"
  • Understand simple instructions, such as "Come here"
  • Recognize words for common items, such as shoe
  • Turn and look in the direction of sounds
  • Respond to "no"

By the end of 18 months

By the end of 18 months, your child might:

  • Point to an object or picture when it's named
  • Recognize names of familiar people, objects and body parts
  • Follow simple directions accompanied by gestures
  • Say as many as eight to 10 words

By the end of 24 months

By the end of 24 months, your child might:

  • Use simple phrases, such as "more milk"
  • Ask one- to two-word questions, such as "Go bye-bye?"
  • Follow simple commands without the help of gestures
  • Speak at least 50 words

When to check with your child's doctor

Talk to your child's doctor if your child hasn't mastered most of the speech and language development milestones for his or her age or you're concerned about any aspect of your child's development. Speech delays occur for many reasons, including hearing loss and developmental disorders. Depending on the circumstances, your child's doctor might refer your child to a hearing specialist (audiologist) or a speech-language pathologist.

In the meantime, talk to your child about what you're doing and where you're going. Sing songs and read together. Teach your child to imitate actions, such as clapping, and to say animal sounds. Practice counting. Show your child that you're pleased when he or she speaks. Listen to your child's sounds and repeat them back to him or her. These steps can encourage your child's speech and language development.